Posted by Newsroom

ReferenceUSA offers weekly webinars on a variety of topics--and these webinars are open to patrons from any NC LIVE member library.

Live Q&A

Mondays, 4:00 p.m. Eastern --Click Here to Register

Do you have questions about what ReferenceUSA is or how to use the product?  Do you need answers?  We are here to help!  Bring your list of questions to this open question and answer session.  We look forward to answering all the questions you have.

ReferenceUSA Search Essentials

Tuesdays, 4:00 p.m. Eastern--Click Here to Register

Designed for anyone new to using our database, this hour-long session will cover all the basics of getting started with ReferenceUSA. We will cover the four essentials anyone, particularly those new to ReferenceUSA, will want to know in order to successfully use the resource. This is also be a great opportunity for current users to learn some new tips, tricks, and techniques. Lots of time will be reserved at the end of the session for questions.

ReferenceUSA For Starting a Business

Thursdays, 4:00 p.m. Eastern--Click Here to Register

Learn how to use ReferenceUSA to complete the research you need to start a business.
    - Research your Market
    - Research your Competitors
    - Research your Potential Customers

Finding People with ReferenceUSA

Fridays, 4:00 p.m. Eastern--Click Here to Register

Designed to help users find people. This session will cover all the basics of pinpointing the right people. We’ll cover how to identify individuals choosing from dozens of search selections that include both demographic and information. Learn new tips, tricks, and techniques that will help you identify the people you’re looking for, fast.

Posted by Newsroom
Patron Success Graphic

See Natalie's story and others on the NC LIVE Impact website!

(RALEIGH, NC) – A college student in Cherokee County is learning Japanese on her smartphone, while in Raleigh a mother starts her last semester of college with a 3.9 grade point average. An entrepreneur in Stokesdale has a utility patent granted, while a small business owner in Mooresville opens her first retail store. Each credits part of their success to their library, and the tools and information they can access online, anytime, for free through NC LIVE.

These stories and other have been collected in NC LIVE Impact, a new digital library awareness campaign showcasing how residents use North Carolina’s digital library resources to get the information they need to meet their goals---twenty-four hours a day, from any device. 

The state’s 201 public and academic libraries have collectively funded the NC LIVE online library since 1998 to ensure every resident has access to quality research materials, streaming videos, and ebooks. The digital library also includes tools for everything from competitive business analysis and market research to academic and professional test prep, genealogy research, and language learning.  

All of these resources are costly, but licensing and managing them collectively saves libraries time and money. “NC LIVE spends $3.4 million a year to provide access to content that would cost our member libraries $23 million to acquire on their own. This partnership creates tremendous value for libraries of all types and sizes,” notes NC LIVE Executive Director Rob Ross. 

The Impact campaign will run through the end of March 2017, during which time NC LIVE and member libraries will promote digital resources and highlight how they have helped North Carolinians achieve their goals. The campaign includes social media messaging and public radio underwriting to spread the world about NC’s own digital library. 

Individuals can learn more and donate to the NC LIVE Foundation at

Posted by Rob
Author’s Note:  

Last week Serials Review published an article I wrote this spring about library consumer expectations, popular services in other industries, and the art of trendspotting.  The final version of that article can be found here:  If your library doesn’t subscribe to Serials Review, below is an earlier, draft version that I’m allowed to share.

Discovery from the Outside In


I believe we can make libraries more effective, more impactful, more popular, more valued, and better supported.  I believe we can accomplish this without a single new idea. 

We are all Outsiders

The ideas already exist.  They have been and continue to be implemented, evaluated, measured, tweaked, and re-measured.  The good ideas stick and the bad ones fall away.  Some good ideas have already served their purpose and been displaced by newer ideas better aligned to what people want (and therefore expect) right now.  You are already familiar with these ideas.  It’s true.  You have helped test the ideas, albeit unwittingly, and you already have strong opinions about them.

What am I talking about?  What are these ideas I speak of?  They are the ideas you find in your life outside of libraries.  They are the ideas that shape your experience as a consumer.  Whether you are grocery shopping, buying a new blender on Amazon, requesting an Uber, ordering takeout, checking Google Maps for traffic delays, or subscribing to a meal delivery service like Plated, you are engaging with service providers that have invested enormous amounts of time, talent and money to ensure that you have an excellent consumer experience.  They make it easy to find what you want; offer intuitive UI; provide a variety of options to meet your specific needs; leverage new technologies like GPS and mobile Apps to let you consume where you are; learn your preferences so these services can make smart, nuanced recommendations; make it simple to order and pay; and work out all the logistics necessary for speedy delivery.  They make it so easy.

When we like these services, we keep using them.  When we don’t like them, we make them go away by ignoring them.  We are all beta testers.  We are all members of focus groups.  We all have formed opinions about these services.  Hate grocery shopping?  Try ordering them online and receiving curbside checkout.  Hungry for real food, but don’t want to leave your apartment?  Order via GrubHub.  Need a ride, but want to ensure your driver isn’t going to overcharge you?  Uber it.  Not sure when to leave home to catch the opening act at a concert?  Check Google Maps for a real-time estimate.  All of these products and services, and all the others you are thinking of now, are sources of fully market-tested ideas that can be adopted into our libraries to make them more effective, more impactful, more popular, more valued, and better supported.

The Best You’ve Ever Had

Consumers have a voracious appetite for products and services that they perceive improve their quality of life.  Once consumers become accustomed to them, their expectations for all products and services rise accordingly.

An example from my own life:  at my house we receive lots of packages.  My wife and I both regularly shop online and there are weeks when we receive at least one package a day, usually arriving in a cardboard box.  When the companies we order from use a private carrier like FedEx or UPS, the packages get delivered to our doorstep rain or shine.  When the weather is bad, the carrier will put the cardboard box in a clear plastic bag to protect it from the rain or snow.  Because of this relatively simple additional service of “bagging” our boxes, we receive our packages on time every time.  Therefore our expectation for all carriers is on time delivery.  When a company we order from uses the United States Postal Service (USPS) as their carrier, we experience something different.  USPS packages generally arrive on time, but the individual delivery person will not deliver the package if there is so much as a hint of rain or snow in the air.  Her concern that our products not get damaged is appreciated, but as meteorology is not her forte, we often wait several overcast but otherwise dry days for a package to be left on our doorstep.  Depending on what we are waiting for, this can be annoying.  One time I happened to be in the driveway when the USPS delivery person pulled up.  I asked about their weather policy, and she confirmed that she would be held responsible if a package was damaged by the elements.  I told her I understood her caution, but that other carriers like FedEx and UPS simply bag the box and leave it and that has worked brilliantly.  Her response:  “They don’t give us bags.”

My goal in providing this example is not to disparage the USPS, but to illustrate that (a) great ideas to improve service are not hard to find (FedEx and UPS are not attempting to keep secret the fact that they empower their delivery team to use their best judgment and supply them with bags), and (b) a consumer’s expectations are set by the best service experiences they have ever had.

Fundamental questions

Before we go further, we must think about three fundamental business questions, for the answers to these questions will inform our definition of a “good” idea and will help us determine where in the vast wilderness of other industries we should look for these good ideas that can improve our libraries.  First, what business are libraries in?  Second and third, what do we call the people we serve and what do they really want from us?

What business are libraries in? 

Libraries provide e-resources, so does that mean we are in the ecommerce business?  Libraries provide physical materials, so perhaps that makes us a retailer.  Libraries also provide reference and instruction services, so does that make us consultants and educators?  Maybe we are museums; after all, we preserve and display cultural heritage materials.  Many public libraries are their community’s hub, hosting public meetings.  Does that mean they are in the facilities management industry?  Got a Makerspace?  Perhaps that makes you a laboratory.

Our diversity of services, missions, content, physical spaces, etc. are often a source of pride in librarianship, and there is merit to that.  But from a branding perspective, this is hopelessly confusing.  Librarians roll their eyes when someone naively assumes that we deal with physical books all day.  What’s annoying to us about this outdated notion is also revealing; it demonstrates that, for at least 500 years, libraries have benefitted from a durable, recognizable brand.  That kind of longevity is the envy of just about every industry outside of places of worship and hospitals.  Libraries as “the buildings with books” really has stuck with people, probably because it’s not difficult to remember and, for most people, evokes positive associations.

Nonetheless, our historical brand doesn’t accurately reflect today’s libraries and needs to be refreshed.  But what do we replace it with?  What is our modern brand?  Note the singular.  Not “brands.”  Brand.  Here our diversity works against us.  We have an identity crisis.  We are so many things to so many people, we cannot distill it to a modern equivalent of “the buildings with books.”  In lieu of a modern brand, our patrons revert to our historical brand.  We can’t blame them; we haven’t offered an alternative brand that can compete.

Brand confusion aside, being many things to many people has other, internal, impacts to libraries.  How many employees do you have at your library?  Now name a business with the same number or fewer employees that is exceptional in more than three lines of business.  More than two?  There is a reason for this.  It is incredibly difficult to be great in one line of business.  Libraries, even small ones, attempt to be great at several.  The result is predictable;  we are good at some, okay or worse at others, and all the while we feel pulled in too many directions at once.  The stoics among us say they wear many hats.  Their desire to serve the needs of patrons is admirable, but stretched too thin we can’t give them the best.

It’s not all bad news.  Because libraries do many things, we have many things to choose from when determining what our core business (our area of expertise) will be.  What’s more, because we do not compete with each other the way for-profit businesses compete, but rather have a long history of strategic partnerships and reciprocal agreements, we can have the best of both worlds.  We can choose our individual library’s core business, and we can continue to provide other services to our patrons by “outsourcing.”  Outsourcing could take the form of partnering with another library or group of libraries, joining or forming a cooperative, partnering with a local business, or simply purchasing a vendor solution.  The point is to focus on the core business your library is best at and supplement it with other services by way of partners, co-ops, and vendors.  Assuming you make sound business choices, you can offer patrons a suite of best-in-class services.

A rose by any other name

The name you attach to someone can change the way you view him or her.  Having worked in or with libraries my entire career, I’ve heard the people we serve referred to as “patrons,” “users,” “faculty,” “undergraduates,” “community members,” and on occasion much worse.  Each of these designations connotes particular roles, qualities, social standings, likes and dislikes, etc.  What is limiting about all these terms is that they are library-centric.  They allow us to define the people we serve as patrons of the library, our space, and as such we feel empowered to apply library-centric criteria of satisfaction to them.  This insular view of the people we serve does us no favors.  First, rather than describing our potential customer-base, all of these terms account only for our active customer-base.  By focusing only on our current base, we greatly reduce our ability to grow our customer-base because we don’t spend sufficient time and effort determining what is deterring un-patrons from using the library.  This approach would be anathema to any revenue-generating business where anything less than year-over-year growth is seen as failure.  Second, these terms imply an overstated differentiation between various types of library users.  Are faculty members and undergraduates different in some ways?  Of course.  But seen through a broader lens both groups are information seekers, making them 99% the same.  Whatever differences in service expectations they exhibit have more to do with their generational gap than whether they assign the homework or turn it in.  Finally, these terms are, to varying degrees, proprietary to libraries.  They lure us into thinking that the people we serve see the library as fundamentally different than the other service providers they consume from.

I advocate that we call the people we serve consumers.  Why?  Because by thinking of the people we serve as consumers, and not as patrons, users, faculty or any of those other terms, we force ourselves to consider that these people view the library through the same lens they view other providers of goods and services.  In the typical day of a consumer, the library is one of 20 or more providers they transact with.  They might begin the day consuming breakfast (one) at home while watching TV (two); drive to work listening to the radio (three); stop for gas (four); check the news online (five); IM their significant other about an annoying coworker (six); buy a coffee (seven); order lunch (eight); pay bills online (nine); check the status of a delivery (ten); log-in to a WebEx meeting (eleven); and so on.

Each of those service experiences shapes their expectations for all other experiences.  If my weather App automatically knows my location, why doesn’t my library App?  Once a consumer knows a service is possible, that service becomes an expectation.  Thinking of the people we serve as consumers, rather than any of those library-centric terms, reminds us that we don’t get to set our own bar for great service.

What a Patron Wants / What a Consumer Needs

What do library consumers want?  The same things you want when you are the consumer:

  • A familiar experience
  • No learning curve
  • Integration with their favorite technologies
  • Convenience
  • Speed
  • Reliability
  • Portability
  • Great customer service.

Walking into a library (or landing on its homepage) does not lower these consumer expectations.  Libraries do not get a free pass.  As long as we are in the ecommerce industry, we compete with Amazon and eBay.  As long as we are in the retail industry, we compete with Apple and Whole Foods.  As long as we are in the professional services industry, we compete with financial advisors and real estate agents.  We can say that libraries are fundamentally different and, therefore, impervious to the standards set by these other industries.  But you cannot undo the expectations that the consumers walking in your doors or searching your website bring with them, expectations set by all the other service providers they consume from.

The Fine Art of Trendspotting

The aim of this article is not to provide you a list of readymade services to implement in your library.  Any such list would be oblivious to your library’s unique situation.  What’s more, any services I suggest now will be dated soon after publication.  Rather, the aim of this article is to provide some illustrative examples of services in industries outside of libraries that consumers are fond of and, therefore, accustomed to.  Some of these services will have long shelf lives, while others will soon be displaced by other services deemed superior by consumers.  My goal in providing these specific examples of services is to help you develop the skill of “trendspotting,” a skill that will outlive any particular idea or trend.

What can we learn from ecommerce?

Noticed anything different about online ads lately?  Do you ever feel, like the cast of South Park did in the 2015 episode “Sponsored Content,” that ads seem to be following you?  Is it eerie how much they seem to know about your interests, habits, desires, affinities, insecurities?  Because online power players like Google and Facebook have invested heavily in companies like DoubleClick and Atlas, respectively, which track and analyze your online and offline purchasing behavior, the ads you are presented with are much more targeted to your interests (Steel & Angwin, 2010; Madrigal, 2012; Sterling, 2014).

For some, this level of tracking and dynamic responding in the form of spot-on suggestions for products and services is alarming.  Those concerned with privacy have taken to using new browser features like Chrome’s Incognito, Firefox and Safari’s Private Browsing, or Internet Explorer’s (IE) InPrivate Browsing, which, among other things, prevent companies from tracking your behavior across multiple websites.  There are limitations to each of these features and, as you would imagine, those with privacy concerns are skeptical that companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft, all of which benefit greatly by collecting and analyzing masses of data, are going to allow users of their browsers to completely shut off the data tap. 

For others, the analytics that companies like Google have put to use are perceived as a major convenience.  Ads based on my searching behavior and location are much more likely to be of interest than the blanket, “dumb” ads I see on television or in print newspapers.  If I’m going to have to see ads as I use the web, I’d rather they know me well enough to suggest relevant products and services.  The more data a provider has, the more accurate it can be when making suggestions to you.  Amazon’s recommender service is a great example of a service provider taking what it knows about its customers - location, gender, age, interests, likes/dislikes via ratings, search behavior elsewhere on the web, and consumption habits - and turning that data into useful suggestions.  Amazon introduces us to authors that share similar traits with those we like.  Amazon suggests that we purchase more of our favorite marinara sauce since it’s been a month since we bought any and are probably running low.  Amazon knows that we’ve been searching for brown socks elsewhere online and suggests a few brands we might like.  Consumer behavior tells us that, for many, the convenience is worth the lack of privacy.

But what does this mean for libraries?  Incredibly accurate recommendation services have raised the expectations of consumers, who now expect the ecommerce providers they interact with to know them and make uncannily on point recommendations.  What do you suppose these consumers think when they use the library’s discovery system?  Are you hoping they lower their expectations?

What could libraries do to live up to consumers’ expectations?  We have assets that could be put to powerful use.  We have more item metadata and more expertise creating and interpreting it than anyone.  Surely this gives us an advantage over other service providers.  Are we willing to monitor our users’ search behavior, assuming they opt-in?  Or are we willing to purchase it from one of a hundred-plus firms that are tracking it already (Angwin, 2010)?  Could a national library association play a leadership role in purchasing it for us at a discount?  Imagine how powerful library discovery systems could be were they to leverage user search behavior data and item metadata to make smart recommendations.

What can we learn from how we consume news online?

In February 2016 the scientific community reported a finding that excited the mainstream media.  Scientists had recorded the sound of two black holes colliding, fulfilling the final prediction of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.  I first learned of this on the New York Times’ homepage.  Until that moment, I had never considered the possibility of hearing black holes collide; now it was the one and only thing in the world I needed to hear.  So I clicked on the story and was taken to a multi-dimensional webpage (Overbye, 2016).  I could read about the discovery and how the sound was recorded; I could watch a narrated video about the formation and collision of black holes; I could see pictures of the scientists who made the discovery and the instruments they used to record the distant sound; I could click through a slideshow called “An Earthling’s Guide to Black Holes” to glean some context; and, most importantly, I could listen to a 12 second audio clip of two black holes colliding.  I did all of these things and felt my curiosity was entirely satisfied by this “article.” 

Then I wondered how this same article would appear in my library’s aggregated database.  We often tell faculty and students that we have the full run of the NYT and, when it comes to historical, born-print articles, aggregated access via the web is quite a convenience over microfiche to researchers.  But what about contemporary articles like this one describing the sound of two black holes colliding?  What would the aggregated version of this be like?  Bad, as it turns out.  Very bad.  Gone was the narrated video without even a mention of its omission.  Gone were the scientists’ pictures and the Earthling's Guide slideshow.  But by far the most painful discovery was the line ratcheting up the anticipation for the reader:  “That faint rising tone, physicists say, is the first direct evidence of gravitational waves, the ripples in the fabric of space-time that Einstein predicted a century ago,” which was followed by the flat, linkless words:  “(Listen to it here).”  Where the word “here” was hyperlinked to the audio at the centerpiece of the story in the original, version of the article, in this aggregator’s database it was merely four letters on a screen, leading nowhere.

What can libraries learn from these two consumer experiences of the same “article”?  If born-digital content is what consumers want (and therefore expect), why are we providing them these aggregated simulacra?  Can we continue to say, with a straight face, that we are providing access to publications like the NYT when the version we offer is so badly deprecated?  Perhaps it is time to rethink the value of purchasing aggregated databases and instead look to purchase content in the format its creators’ intended.

What can we learn from user behavior?

Who among you would like to learn to navigate another platform?  Isn’t it fun to find something of interest on the web, click on it, and then be whisked off to an unfamiliar, often poorly designed platform?  You want the content, but standing in your way is the packaging.  At this point you weigh the pros and cons of proceeding:  based on what I know about the content, is it worth the effort of signing in or signing up for this platform?  Do I think I’ll come back to this platform for other content in the future?  Assuming I encounter difficulties navigating this platform, how much time am I willing to spend and what level of frustration am I willing to endure (Clarke, 2016)?  Often we abort and return to the familiarity of our favorite search engine (Connaway, Dickey, & Radford, 2011).  Sometimes the root problem is the sheer volume of platforms; other times it’s the poor design of the platforms that turns us off (Hanrahan, 2016).  Either way, the medium prevents us from reaching the message.

What can libraries do about this?  Increasingly, libraries are factoring ease of access and platform user experience design (UX) into their decisions about what content to purchase.  If users can’t (or won’t) get to it, even the best content is valueless.  But what if there was a universal platform that all consumers were already familiar with?  What if libraries purchased “naked” content, without any accompanying platform, and then made it available on this universal platform? 

The good news is that the universal platform already exists.  It’s your browser.  Chrome, FireFox, Safari, and IE are ubiquitous with users.  Content providers like The New York Times, in my earlier example, have figured out how to maximize the capabilities of browsers to enhance the value of their content.  A familiar platform with the capability to enhance the value of content may sound too good to be true, but it exists and is being utilized effectively outside the library industry.  Could libraries play a role in encouraging the distribution of “naked” content and exposing it effectively via browsers with no intermediary platforms?  Libraries have the metadata and expertise to create a powerful universal index.  Libraries have the expertise to curate content the same way theSkimm curates news stories, thereby adding value for consumers.  Vendors should view this idea in a positive light, as well.  No longer obligated to build and maintain a platform, they stand to save money.  And most important of all, consumers get easy access to the content they want without unnecessary layers of bad user interfaces (UI). 

What can we learn from retailers?

Grocery stores have notoriously small margins, often hovering between 1 and 3% (Smith, 2008).  Because of this, competition for market share is fierce.  Convenience and rewards are two foci into which grocery stores have invested significant research and market testing.  Anyone who shops can see the resulting services and consider how they have altered consumer expectations for all service providers.  These newly formed consumer expectations aren’t left behind when shoppers push their cart out the automatic sliding doors.  So how can libraries leverage these new services to meet library consumers’ expectations?

First, it is instructive to think about how grocery stores identify what consumers want.  Grocery stores already know what you buy by tracking purchases and pooling data from external sources like credit card companies (Ferguson, 2013).  But effectively pushing products you like is only productive if shoppers routinely return to your store.  To entice loyalty - in this context the term meaning repeat business - grocery stores must set themselves apart from competitors.  They can’t do this through unique products alone, for unique products can easily be copied.  Their ability to distinguish themselves by price is limited, because margins are so small to begin with.  They need to add value to their brand by making it more convenient to shop at their store than the store across the street. 

Grocery stores take consumer personas seriously.  They divide their customers and potential customers into personas like “Variety Seekers,” “Smart Shoppers,” “Gourmet Focus,” “Here we go again,” and “Fast and Furious” (Anonymous).  For each of these personas, they list key attributes.  For example, they know that “Here we go again” shoppers dread shopping and see it as a necessary chore.  What can we do to appeal to these consumers, grocery stores ask.  How about a service that lets them order online and pick-up their groceries curbside?  If these shoppers learn about a Curbside Express service and competitors aren’t offering it, this grocery store has created customer loyalty within this persona.

What are the personas of your library consumers?  Though it’s tempting to use traditional designations like Faculty and Undergraduate, or Adult and Juvenile, consumer personas should be based on behaviors, desires, and attitudes.  They should be based on what the consumer persona does and what they care about.  In an academic library you might identify personas like “Social Butterfly,” who wants access to good coffee, modular furniture, games, and who hates being shushed.  “Solace Seekers,” who view the library as a quiet space to complete homework, will desire private space, limited distractions, comfortable seating, and quick access to a librarian.  No matter what the personas you identify for your library, the outcome should be a detailed list of behaviors, desires and attitudes.  Once you have identified a persona, you begin to see the library through their eyes and it is much easier to brainstorm services, spaces, and policies that will win their loyalty.

Grocery stores were also commercial pioneers in popularizing loyalty cards.  These not only tracked the cardholder’s purchasing behavior, but provided targeted coupons, discounts, perks and insider news.  Of course, library cards are almost as deeply ingrained a brand in our culture as libraries themselves.  But our use of them has been limited to tracking loan activity, fines, and fees.  How might libraries maximize the value of library cards to build additional consumer loyalty?  We could offer rewards for using the library, checking in on social media, writing a review on Yelp, or recommending the library to a friend who signs up for a card.  Could we produce insider newsletters and exclusive offers to active cardholders?  Could we proactively notify customers when new items arrive that match their previous borrowing habits?  None of these efforts would cost libraries much, but they stand to increase loyalty and meet consumer expectations.

Casual eateries have also invested heavily to create conveniences that build consumer loyalty.  Chipotle and Panera, for example, make it incredibly easy to order food online and pick it up with minimal time spent waiting or paying.  At Chipotle you simply have to tell them your name to claim your food; at Panera, your food will be waiting on something that looks very much like a book cart in the lobby area and no check-in is required to make off with your meal.  In both cases these restaurants are capitalizing on intimate knowledge of their consumer personas to create experiences that will appeal to them.  Considering these express services in the context of libraries, how could we make getting resources as easy as ordering a burrito?  Could we make it easy for library consumers to order resources on the go, from their phone?  Do we have express lanes for the pick-up of physical items?  What about bringing resources to our consumers?  How could we provide full-service catering of resources delivered to the classroom?  Can we anticipate information needs?  We know what courses students are enrolled in and professors are teaching.  Could we proactively recommend content to students based on the courses they are enrolled in?  Could we proactively recommend course materials to faculty members based on similar courses taught elsewhere?

What can we learn from the ways we eat?

Not all library services revolve around content.  Reference and instruction librarians more closely align with educators.  Their role is to teach library consumers how to search for and assess resources and then how to apply them effectively to their information need.  Just as in the classroom teachers can change lives by imparting critical knowledge and skills to students, reference and instruction libraries can impact the lives of students or community members by showing them how to open doors they never knew existed.  A great teacher is revered and remembered by his or her students.  But what about those who don’t want to be students?  Or don’t have time to be students?  They have information needs, but they can’t or won’t make the time investment to learn information literacy skills.  How should we serve these library consumers?  For a clue, we can look to the various ways we eat.

Some people enjoy cooking.  At some point in their lives they invested the time and effort to learn the necessary skills to prepare food.  Perhaps they learned from a parent or roommate, or perhaps they watched TV chefs or took cooking classes.  Regardless of where they learned to cook, these people decided they would commit the time and effort necessary to prepare food for themselves.  The benefits are many:  they can cook whatever they want, select only those ingredients up to their standards, and prepare the dish exactly as they prefer.  In library terms, these are the equivalent of the library consumers who attend our instruction classes, express keen interest in learning the skills we impart, take notes, ask questions, and leave fulfilled and armed with the skills necessary to find and assess information.  For years libraries have excelled at teaching people how to cook.

But not everyone knows how to cook, as we can all attest.  Some people have no interest in learning to cook, yet must eat.  The food industry caters to these people in the form of restaurants.  While restaurants do not require that the diner participate in the cooking process, they do expect the diner to provide input about the food that’s to be prepared for them, as well as how it should be prepared.  All of which is to emphasize that there is some level of investment required to dine out.  “Which side dish would you like?”  “How would you like that prepared?”  This all takes time, as does the wait between ordering and being served.  While dining out preserves many of the same benefits of cooking in, some aspects of control are lost:  choice is limited to what’s on the menu, the quality of ingredients is left to someone else’s judgment, and no matter what your instructions, preparation can vary.  In library terms, these diners are the equivalent to library consumers willing to engage in a 1-on-1 reference session.  They aren’t willing, or they don’t have time, to attend an instruction class to learn the skills to do the research themselves, but they are willing to place an order and wait for the results to be served.  For years libraries have excelled at performing reference interviews and serving up relevant information.

Finally, there are those for whom dining out is unthinkable.  This is not to say they never dine out.  Rather, they find themselves in a circumstance that demands faster, more prescriptive service.  It could be a traveller running through an airport terminal to catch her next flight.  It could be a single parent of three late to the next extracurricular afterschool drop off.  These people probably enjoy dining out and perhaps they love to cook for themselves, but circumstances have rendered those options impossible.  And yet they, too, must eat.  The food industry knows this, has recognized this consumer persona, and created services like grab-and-go shops in airports and drive through windows in fast food restaurants.  These services offer a bargain;  in exchange for the diner giving up control over the quality, variety, and preparation of the food, they preserve the commodity most precious to them - time.  This is an opportunity area for libraries.  What would grab-and-go reference service look like?  It is not a LibGuide, which is merely a recipe for cooking on your own.  Perhaps it is a collection of curated content (not resources) on common topics.  Perhaps it is an App that allows library consumers to fill out a brief “order” on their phones describing their information need.  When they click the “finish” button, the order is delivered to a reference librarian and the consumer gets an estimated delivery time of 30 minutes.  When that time has passed, the consumer receives a notification that relevant content is ready for them to view online.  Would such a service teach library consumers how to conduct research?  No.  But not everyone wants to be a scholar, just as not everyone wants to be a chef.  Though everyone needs to eat.

Bringing the Outside In

To take a fresh look at library services through the lens of other industries yields two conclusions.

  1. We know what library consumers want because we know what we want as consumers.
  2. Libraries have some daunting competition.

With hope, we realize that consumers are consumers and all the knowledge we have as a consumer ourselves, as well as the knowledge gleaned from everyone we know about their experiences as consumers, is 100% applicable to library services.  The inner desires of patrons aren’t so unknowable after all; we need only look to broad trends in consumer expectations to know what people like and therefore what they come to expect.  With trepidation we realize that consumers’ expectations don’t suddenly decrease when they walk into a library.  Rather, their expectations of your library are as high as they are for infinitely better-funded service providers.  We understand, then, that libraries face a significant challenge.  Consumer expectations are not fixed.  The best service experience a consumer has ever had will become his or her expectation for all service providers going forward.  And why not?  Once you know something can be done, why not expect it to be done by all providers?  This phenomena places enormous pressure on libraries to match services offered by far better-funded businesses.

But there are reasons to be hopeful.  Funding does not equal success just as money does not equal happiness.  Well-funded businesses make boneheaded decisions and fail spectacularly on a regular basis.  The advantages libraries have over other businesses are (a) our tradition of partnership with one another and with other organizations; (b) our brand recognition, historic though it may be; (c) our culture of openly sharing our successes and failures to help fellow libraries; and (d) our awareness that good ideas to improve library services are all around us, waiting to be adopted.

Be a trendspotter.  Teach yourself to become more self-aware of the services you like, even seemingly small services like bagged packages on your doorstep.  Ask others, especially young people, what services they like.  Don’t assume that the things you appreciate as a consumer have no relationship to library services.  Consumers are consumers, and that fact opens up infinite possibilities for us to try out in the form of new services based on what we see succeed in other industries.  Adopting these ideas stands to make libraries more effective, more impactful, more popular, more valued, and better supported.


Angwin, J. (2010, August 19). Tracking The Companies That Track You Online. Retrieved May 15, 2016, from

Anonymous. (n.d.). Market Segmentation Examples for Retailers. Retrieved May 15, 2016, from

Clarke, M. (2016, May 4). Accessing Publisher Resources via a Mobile Device: A User’s Journey. Retrieved May 15, 2016, from

Connaway, L. S., Dickey, T. J., & Radford, M. L. (2011). “If It Is Too Inconvenient, I’m Not Going After It:” Convenience as a C ritical Factor in I nformation -seeking Behaviors. Library and Information Science Research, 33, 179-190. Retrieved from

Ferguson, D. (2013, June 8). How supermarkets get your data – and what they do with it. The Guardian. Retrieved May 15, 2016, from

Hanrahan, K. (2016, March 28). There’s No Such Thing as Platform Fatigue—There Are Only Bad Platforms. Retrieved May 15, 2016, from

Madrigal, A. C. (2012, February 29). I'm Being Followed: How Google—and 104 Other Companies—Are Tracking Me on the Web. The Atlantic. Retrieved May 15, 2016, from

Overbye, D. (2016, February 11). Gravitational Waves Detected, Confirming Einstein’s Theory. The New York times. Retrieved May 15, 2016, from

Smith, S. V. (2008, April 8). Rising prices a supermarket challenge. Retrieved May 15, 2016, from

Steel, E., & Angwin, J. (2010, August 4). On the Web's Cutting Edge, Anonymity in Name Only. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved May 15, 2016, from

Sterling, G. (2014, September 29). With Atlas Online-to-Offline Conversion Tracking Goes Mainstream. Retrieved May 15, 2016, from

Posted by Newsroom

Raleigh, NCNC LIVE, North Carolina’s statewide public and academic library consortium, has added 980 new ebooks to Home Grown, a collection of fiction and nonfiction works from North Carolina-based publishers. The new additions were purchased with the generous donations of North Carolina libraries and feature a wide variety of titles, including novels by popular North Carolina authors, poetry, young adult, short stories and nonfiction. Readers may enjoy new titles such as And West is West by Ron Childress, Southern Tailgating Cookbook by Taylor Mathis and many more.  The ebooks are available to all North Carolina citizens via the NC LIVE website, , and library websites throughout the state.

All Home Grown ebooks have unlimited, simultaneous user access, meaning that classrooms, book clubs, or any other groups can access the same ebook at the same time. They are a permanent part of the NC LIVE collection and can be accessed by anyone with a library card. Users can view the ebooks in a web browser, or download them to their tablet device via the BiblioBoard Library app.

NC LIVE partnered with six local publishing houses to provide the ebooks in this newest addition to the collection, including Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Crossroad Press, John F. Blair Publishing, McFarland & Company, Press 53 and UNC Press.  The Home Grown collection started as a NC LIVE pilot project in 2014 with 1,200 ebooks and has since grown to over 2,200 with these most recent additions. If you are a member library with any questions or comments, please send them to  

NC LIVE is a statewide library consortium that provides shared digital content and services to North Carolina’s community colleges, public libraries, the UNC System, and NC Independent Colleges and Universities. Patrons of NC LIVE’s 201 member libraries may access eBooks, magazines, newspapers, journals, streaming videos, and more online via library websites, and through


Media Contact:

Claire Leverett
Assistant Director
NCSU Libraries, CB #7111
Raleigh, NC 2765

home_grown_2016_6_sm.jpg34.26 KB
Posted by Rob

Editor’s Note:  I am pleased to share the NC LIVE blog spotlight with guest blogger Andrew Pace.  Andrew and I worked together at OCLC and, during that time, I was continually impressed by Andrew’s passion, focus, and tenacity in overcoming the inevitable obstacles associated with building a complex service for a complex market.  Andrew arrived at OCLC from NCSU and, in the post below, shares some of the formative lessons learned during his stint in North Carolina.  – Rob Ross

In my mind, I’m still in Carolina

Recently, I blogged about my 20th year as a professional librarian. I gave short shrift to North Carolina as a very formative part of what I hope is only half a career. I thought maybe the NC LIVE blog might be a better platform for a little Carolina love.

My colleagues, including Rob Ross, will tell you that I have an annoying habit of tracing all great accomplishments in library land back to North Carolina. But at Rob’s urging, this got me thinking about the lessons I took from my 9 years there in the IT department at NCSU Libraries.  The following list isn’t meant to be a recipe for success. If I had one of those, I’d use it all the time. Instead, these are just some general rules that started in NC and have matured over the years.

1. Solve real problems.

"Wanted" poster

“Wanna see something cool?” is still the most dangerous phrase in IT. Since libraries typically lag just slightly behind the technological curve, we’re sometimes late to the party when it comes to new trends and solutions. As such, it’s easy to fall into the trap of having a solution that is looking for a problem. Instead, librarians should use their intimate familiarity with library problems and start there. Starting with the problem and not the solution is always better.

For example. Federated search or metasearch was not a problem. The problem was consortial collection development and resource sharing across libraries. Finding better ways to share led to better solutions. Had UNC, TRLN, or NC LIVE started with the tools available, the solution would have been much harder to attain.

2. Lead from the front.

If you have an idea or a passion, you have to own it. Yes, you will stand on the shoulders of giants. Yes, it takes a village. Blah, blah, blah…save it for your speech at the award ceremony. Reluctance to lead from the front is simply fear of failure. Get over it. Due to our altruistic nature, we tend to look out the window of success and into the mirror of failure. But the key characteristic of a successful project is a visible and vocal advocate…earnest, passionate, even dogged in his or her desire to see dream become reality.

"Never stop fighting till the fight is done." Elliot Ness (K. Costner) to Al Capone (R. Deniro) in The Untouchables
Elliot Ness (K. Costner) to Al Capone (R. Deniro) in The Untouchables

I’ve tried to lead on many fronts, OPACs (and the death of that very word), Electronic Resource Management, Standards, Library Service Platforms. Some of these efforts can take years. I first wrote about dismantling the ILS in February 2004. WorldShare Management Services launched as the first cloud-based library platform in the summer of 2011. But I did my best to stay at the front of that effort the entire time (and to this day).

3. Deal with the closest alligator to the boat.


I stole this phrase from my operations manager at NCSU Libraries, Rob Main. As I would drop yet another problem on Rob, he’d often ask me, “Is this the closest alligator to our boat?” Rob was good at multi-tasking, but he was even better at prioritizing. Not all of us have the luxury of separating development and future-thinking from day-to-day operations. If the alligators are climbing in your boat, it might be a good idea to ignore the one on the shore.

Library land has lots of examples of ignoring the circling gators in favor of headier and more distant problems. One of my great honors is coining the phrase “The OPAC Sucks.” My mother is so proud. This early library meme led to lots of articles, speaking engagements, a great blog series by Karen Schneider (part 1, part 2, part 3), and even a theme song on Youtube. But setting the historical record straight, here’s what I actually said at the 2005 ALA Midwinter Top Tech Trends Panel: “There’s so much talk about portals, metasearch, learning objects—the list goes on—that we have been distracted from the fact that the OPAC still sucks.” In other words, “Look, that alligator is waaaay closer to the boat.”

Just three lessons from a rewarding 9 years spent in North Carolina. I’ll continue to trace as much as I can back to that great state.

Andrew K. Pace is Executive Director of WorldShare Community Development at OCLC, leading new efforts to scale and accelerate library learning, research and innovation by building more effective OCLC advisory groups, facilitating deeper library community engagement, and managing the OCLC Community Center.

Posted by Rob

Performance Reviews:  The bad and the good

This is the third in a series of posts on how to build a great team.

For many, this is performance review season, the annual ceremony that direct reports fear and managers loathe.  Those up for review dread being assessed - judged, if we use the word that more accurately reflects how the ceremony makes us feel.  Those delivering the reviews are equally wary.  They face a minefield of potential unintended consequences.  It’s no wonder so many of us try to put the things off.  I had a peer who was habitually a year late in giving reviews to her team!  What follows are observations, lessons learned and tips on being reviewed and reviewing others.

Why we don’t like them

We are open to certain feedback

People are fond of saying they are open to feedback.  At work; in relationships; as you bite into their overcooked salmon at a dinner party.  But what they really mean is that they are open to hearing positive feedback.  They tend to be less open to feedback that is less than flattering. 

Judgment aversion

Underpinning the anxiety of a performance review is a basic human aversion to being judged.  From the dawn of time there have been dire consequences to being judged harshly.  As a result, we are conditioned to be cautious when entering a situation where we will be assessed.  Often the caution far outweighs the potential danger, and this holds true for performance reviews:  Physiologically, we are in fight or flight mode when, in fact, the worst thing that is likely to happen is our boss says we need to improve.

High stakes

When performance reviews are tied to promotion or salary raises, the dread increases tenfold.  In this scenario one person’s judgment impacts a direct report’s livelihood.  With adrenaline flowing and heart rate elevated, it should not be surprising if a direct report behaves defensively or emotionally.  For some, a performance review is the fulcrum between their work life and their personal life, its outcome impacting them and their families in material ways.


Complicating the review process is the fact that everyone responds to personal critiques differently.  I once gave two individuals very similar assessments.  One left the room energized and focused, having accepted my challenge to improve in a particular competency.  An hour later the second individual left the room in tears.  Same feedback; different results.

The bad and the good

Strive for balance

Lest anyone think that managers enjoy the review process, consider their dilemma.  If you judge average and weak performers too leniently, you tacitly encourage them to (a) remain in the organization and (b) continue performing at their current level.  What’s more, their high-performing coworkers will feel demoralized when they see that their own standards are higher than those set by their manager.  Judge top performers too leniently and you risk starving them of opportunities to grow professionally.  Top performers tend to be development-hungry; if you don’t challenge them to improve they feel starved.  Counterintuitively, by heaping praise upon them without accompanying opportunities to grow, you will drive them to seek a more challenging opportunity elsewhere.  On the other hand, judge your team too harshly and you risk breaking your team’s spirit, leading them to believe that their worklife is doomed to be a Sisyphean existence.  No matter what they do, they cannot satisfy the boss.  Consequently, they will do as little as possible until they find an exit strategy.

Inherent one-sidedness

Performance reviews are designed to be one-sided, which makes them inconducive to productive dialogue.  At its worst, a manager walks away from the review feeling heard and effective, while the direct report walks away fuming because he or she had no opportunity to express his or her perspective.  This is one of the primary reasons experts advocate so strongly for ongoing feedback throughout the year between manager and direct report.  These less formal check-ins are much more conducive to candid, two-way communication.  The stakes are lower; the venue is more casual; and there is no HR template sitting on the table between you.  If feedback has been honest and ongoing throughout the year, the one-sidedness of the formal review isn’t as problematic because the direct report will have already had plenty of opportunities to share his or her perspective.

Living to work or working to live

There are many amusing “principles” about how various groups view work.  We all know people whose entire identity is tied to their position.  We all know others who simply slide by without ever letting work stress them out.  Everyone is somewhere on this spectrum and it behooves managers to figure out how their direct reports view work in the broader context of their life.  Some individuals crave responsibility.  Some simply want a raise.  Some want to make a difference in the world.  Without knowing what makes a direct report tick, a manager will use a one size fits all model for reviewing and motivating their team members.  A generous raise given to someone who wants to make a difference will certainly be appreciated, but it won’t increase their motivation.

The card says Moops

Criticizing the performance review templates themselves is popular sport, but in my experience they are all the same even in their differences.  Besides, their deficiencies serve a valuable purpose:  Finding faults in them is a cathartic opportunity for both manager and managed to relieve their mutual anxiety about the judgment ceremony by eviscerating an inanimate, bureaucratic artifact.

A good review begins with good goals

Useful performance reviews begin with well-constructed goals.  There are many helpful models for writing goals.  I prefer the SMART goals model, which demands that every goal be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound.  I’ve read many well-intentioned goals that were useless to me in assessing someone because they lacked a due-date, or specific success criteria, or were unrealistic.  As a manager, the rigor of goal-writing models keeps you honest and prevents you from assigning goals that, a year later, neither you nor your direct report will be able to declare successful or unsuccessful with any objective certainty.  As a direct report, the same rigor protects you by ensuring that you will be judged on your performance against a clear, realistic, well-defined set of goals.

Eye of the beholder and the free market

When you’re alone in a room with your boss, listening to him or her judge you, it’s easy to overestimate the objective validity of their opinion.  They may be your boss, but they are still just one person and their opinion of you may not be shared by others.  This works both ways:  A boss who thinks you walk on water may overvalue you, just as a boss who thinks you are inadequate may not represent the views of others.  I’ve seen untouchables laid off when they began reporting to another boss who valued them differently and I’ve seen unappreciated individuals rise quickly after a change in leadership.  The point?  If you believe your boss undervalues you, test your hypothesis by applying for other interesting positions.  The market will tell you whether or not you were right.  If, though, you receive similar feedback from multiple bosses, odds are their valuation of you is valid.

Occasionally, performance reviews are awesome

Despite the many problematic aspects of the review process, sometimes they can be a delight.  Most of us thrive on praise and recognition, and when a high performer is being reviewed, it can be a restorative experience for both parties.  As the boss, you have a formal opportunity to praise the person’s accomplishments and explain how you feel their skills contributed to their success so that they gain more self-awareness about how and when to apply particular skills to particular scenarios.  You also get to reset your expectations of them for next year.  On the heels of every promotion I’ve received, I was been given a new charge outside my comfort zone.  “Way to go.  Now, here’s what I need you to do this year.”  As the high performer, you get to feel good about your contributions and reflect on their impact to the organization.  As information professionals, we don’t often give ourselves time to self-reflect, instead rushing from one project to the next.  The formality of the review process forces you to think about the past year and what impact you have made.  Try to enjoy it.  Review season only comes once a year.


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Posted by Newsroom


ReferenceUSA offers weekly webinars on a variety of topics--and these webinars are open to patrons from any NC LIVE member library. Take a look at their July - September 2016 offerings and sign up today!

Job Seeking: Career Search Strategies Using ReferenceUSA

See dates and register: Mondays, 11:30 am and Fridays, 4:00 pm EDT

Attendees will learn how to use ReferenceUSA as part of their career searching strategy. Included will be information on the importance of having accurate information for applications and resumes, creating engaging cover letters, assembling a network of references and referrers, finding key individuals at a business to act as mentors, building data sets of potential employers based on skill set, work history, and preferences, and preparing for interviews and interactions thorough research. We will also explore the Jobs & Internship module, which adds a new dimension to job searching.

ReferenceUSA’s Search Essentials

See dates and register: Mondays at 4:00 pm EDT

Designed for anyone new to using our database, this hour-long session will cover all the basics of getting started with ReferenceUSA. We will cover the four essentials anyone, particularly those new to ReferenceUSA, will want to know in order to successfully use the resource. This is also a great opportunity for current users to learn some new tips, tricks, and techniques. Plenty of time will be reserved at the end of the session for questions.

People Seeking People

See dates and register: Tuesdays at 4:00 pm EDT

Designed to help users find people using the same tools Private Investigators do, this session will cover all the basics of pinpointing the right people. We’ll cover how to identify individuals choosing from dozens of search selections that include both demographic and firmographic information. Learn new tips, tricks, and techniques that will help you identify the people you’re looking for, fast.

Starting a Business

See dates and register: Wednesdays at 11:30 am EDT

Learn how to use ReferenceUSA to complete the research you need to start a business.
- Research your Market
- Research your Competitors
- Research your Potential Customers

Managing your Business

See dates and register: Wednesdays at 4:00 pm EDT

For Business Managers who are looking to learn more about:
- How to determine the strongest and weakest sales territories
- How to divide and distribute sales territories for the best results
- Who should your business be targeting for the greatest ROI
- Strategic Decision-making using Market Analytics
- Competitive analysis / SWAT analysis

Growing your Business for B2B Sales

See dates and register: Thursdays at 11:30 am EDT

Designed for business-to-business companies and their sales reps. This webinar will demonstrate:
- Knowing your territory's benchmarks
- Determining your best client
- Finding new sales leads (Vertical Marketing)
- Best Practices to grow your pipeline (Direct Mail, Phone Calls, Compelling Call to Action, Targeted messaging)

Growing your Business for B2C Sales

See dates and register: Thursdays at 4:00 pm EDT

Designed for business to consumer companies and their sales reps. This webinar will demonstrate:
- How to find your target market
- How to find potential consumers
- Best practices for B2C sales
- How to research your market

How to Research/Find a Doctor or Dentist

See dates and register: Fridays at 11:30 am EDT

In this session you will learn:
- How to target your search to find your ideal doctor or dentist
- How to find doctors accepting your health plan
- How to research your current doctor/dentist
- How to search for their office (cross-reference information with the U.S. business file)

Posted by Newsroom

Morningstar Investment Research Center is offering two FREE online events next week as part of Money Smart Week. These events are open to anyone with an interest in learning more about investment and retirement.

Morningstar Investment Research Center Training Session
Tuesday, April 26th  
1 PM Eastern Time
Are you ready to use Morninstar Investment Research Center but don't know where to start? This webinar will provide an overview of the Morningstar Investment Research Center's most popular features and will last approximately one hour, with ample time for questions. 

To join the training session, visit this link on the day of the event: Start Training

Then, dial 866-844-9418 and use conference code 835 661 9570.


A Late Start Guide to Retirement Investing
Thursday, April 28th 
7 PM Eastern Time 

Are you hurtling toward retirement age but are concerned that you haven't saved enough? Morningstar Director of Personal Finance Christine Benz will discuss the key steps pre-retirees can take to improve the viability of their plans if they're playing catch-up. She'll discuss the pros and cons of working longer, delaying Social Security, and adjusting a portfolio's asset allocation mix, among other factors. She'll also cover traps to avoid if you're working to make up a shortfall. Finally, she'll share some model in-retirement portfolios for retirees and pre-retirees with differing time horizons and risk tolerances.  

The event will be streaming live from this link: Late Start Guide to Retirement Investing Live Video

Contact your library to learn about other resources available to help you be Money Smart!

Posted by Rob

The New Manager’s Survival Guide

This is the second in a series of posts on how to build a great team.

Little can prepare you for being a new manager.  You can read books on it, talk to seasoned managers, contemplate the qualities of the best (and worst) managers you’ve had, but because so much of being a manager is experiential, these resources can provide only a cursory understanding of what awaits you.  If you are a new manager, or aspire to be one, prepare for one of the most intense learn-on-the-job experiences of your life.  That said, below I’ve highlighted 9 key management lessons I’ve learned through my own experience, in the hope that they will aid those of you about to embark on your first management role.

Let the metamorphosis begin
Ever see a job posting for a manager role that doesn’t require prior supervisory experience?  Me neither.  What this means is that first time managers are almost always promoted by their current employer.  Why does that matter?  Because it means that your coworkers already know you as a non-manager.  You already have a reputation, a network, friends (and foes), and perhaps a few close personal relationships with coworkers.  All of which is to say you are not starting from a clean slate.  The paperwork formalizing your transition to manager may be sudden, but your reputation will take time to evolve.  People won’t suddenly see you differently and it is easy to continue behaving as though you are not responsible for leading and setting an example for your team.

Establish a new dynamic
Often you will be asked to manage people who, the day before, were your teammates.  This will feel especially strange because you likely have peer rapport with them, a shared history, inside jokes, mutual dirt, etc.  It is tempting to continue in your relationships with them as though nothing has changed.  This is a common mistake.  Your relationship with your new direct reports has fundamentally changed.  You have been assigned the task of leading them.  This means, on the positive side, that you are responsible for getting the best out of them, inspiring them, supporting them, and challenging them.  It also means, on the negative side, holding them accountable, correcting them, disciplining them, and, when necessary, eliminating their positions.  If you’re going to be a successful manager, at some point you will need to do all of these things, so consider how close of a personal relationship you are comfortable having with those on your team.

Stay you
As a new manager, I initially went too far in my attempts to establish authority.  When former teammates I used to joke with made jokes, I frowned and asked them work-related questions to refocus the conversation.  I began declining standing social gatherings where I knew everyone would drop all pretenses and blow off steam.  This was a mistake because I was unnecessarily alienating myself from my team by pretending to be someone other than myself.  My sense of humor and interests didn’t evaporate the day I was promoted, so why would I behave like a robot?  It took time to find a balance.  Today’s workforce wants to engage with their boss as a coach or mentor, which requires a level of personalness never expected in past generations of bosses.  They want to feel valued and they want their job to be fulfilling, and how their boss treats them has a significant impact on their perception of both.  So what am I suggesting?  Establish a new identity befitting your new position, but at the same time don’t lose who you are.  Strive for a balance between being considered “one of the gang” and being seen as “management.”  Sound hard?  It is.

First day of school
Remember walking into class at the end of summer and seeing a stranger at the front of the room?  “Who is this person and, more importantly, what will she let me get away with?”  Schoolchildren are masterful testers of boundaries and the first few days of the school year are a high-stakes game of poker between students and teacher, the winner setting the tone for the rest of the school year.  The teacher who establishes clear, firm boundaries early on and demonstrates the willingness to follow through on stated consequences will quickly earn respect and therefore the right to lead his or her class.  The teacher who fails to establish authority will forfeit the right to lead and face an uphill battle to manage the class the rest of the school year.  As a new manager, consider what your ground rules will be, what team culture you want to establish, and what consequences you are willing to employ.  Be intentional in your execution of this vision, don’t be afraid to correct your direct reports when they cross a line, but at the same time don’t be shy about publicly rewarding the behaviors you want to cultivate, and both you and your new team will thrive.

To be loved or feared
Hypercompetitive industries like professional sports offer case studies on how a variety of management styles on the Loved-to-Feared spectrum can be equally effective.  Disciplinarian coaches like Tom Coughlin can lead their team to Super Bowl victories.  Beloved positive reinforcers like Pete Carroll can achieve the same result.  Occasionally, a coach comes along who can toggle between both extremes at will.  What type of boss should you be?  Your top priority is to be an effective (and thus respected) boss.  How you do that - your style - is inevitably going to be a combination of what the team needs and your own personality.  Don’t worry so much about whether you need to be more authoritarian or more nurturing.  A wide variety of styles can work.  Be what comes naturally to you with special emphasis on what you think your new team needs; that’s your best chance to be an effective leader.

Find a Mentor
Learning how to manage is mostly experiential, but that doesn’t mean you need to go it alone.  As soon as you find out that you are going to be a manager, identify someone in your organization who has the reputation of being a great manager.  This will be someone people want to work for, are loyal to, and who has a reputation for developing talent that then moves up in the organization.  Approach them about being a mentor.  The relationship should be somewhat formal.  This is not a series of gripe sessions about how hard it is to be a manager.  You and your mentor should set goals based on the management competencies you want to develop.  Your meetings should focus on your progress against these goals, using real life situations as practice opportunities and failures (there will be many) as teaching moments.  If you’ve chosen your mentor wisely, it’s unlikely you will present them with a situation they haven’t experienced before and cannot provide you with perspective on.

Redefine “Real Work”
An individual performer spends a much greater percentage of time working independently compared to a manager.  They tend to think of that solo work as “the real work.”  The meetings, peer discussions, networking, reporting up, etc. they often consider nuisances and time-suckers.  “If I just had fewer meetings I could get some real work done.”  As a new manager, you must redefine “real work” for yourself.  Of course everyone at every level has some work best done alone, but as a manager, the majority of your real work consists of activities like monitoring and developing your team; cultivating relationships with peer managers whose cooperation you will need to succeed; reporting up to your boss and others effectively; recruiting talent; staying attuned to the priorities of your organization’s senior leaders so you can align your team members’ priorities to them; staying current on industry trends; creating a brand that lets others know what you stand for; etc.  This is your new “real work.”  It will feel strange at first and you will long for the familiarity of your former solo duties with warm nostalgia, but resist the urge to slip back into the role of individual contributor.  It’s no longer what you’re being paid to do.

The Coddler
When new managers take over a team, they want to earn some early goodwill from their new direct reports.  One of the easiest ways to do this - and the most common trap I see new managers fall into - is to act on a direct report’s complaint about something or someone with blind, unquestioning certitude.  The new manager says something like, “Leave it to me,” and rushes off to fight with another manager on their direct report’s behalf.  While this may generate some short-term goodwill from the direct report, it is poor leadership.  First, what if your direct report’s complaint is inaccurate, or entirely one-sided, or simply a manifestation of a personality conflict with another person in the organization?  Instead of making a good first impression on a new peer, you look like a fool and alienate yourself from another manager, or even an entire team.  Second, what are the odds that your direct report is an entirely innocent victim in the situation?  It’s very rare to uncover pure evil in an organization; organizational friction is almost always the result of misunderstandings in which both parties are culpable.  But in the rush to come to your direct report’s defense, it’s easy to neglect to question them on their role in the situation.  Third, what has your direct report done to try and resolve the issue him or herself?  Have they exhausted all options available to them?  What was the other party’s response to their attempts?  If the new manager doesn’t challenge and support their direct reports to solve issues on their own, they will never develop the critical conflict resolution skills necessary to advance.  Equally detrimental, the new manager will find him or herself forever putting out other people’s fires.

Let go
When someone is given their first opportunity to be a manager, it’s generally a reward for their performance as an individual contributor and a sign of faith that they can grow into a good manager.  The key phrases here are “performance as an individual contributor” and “faith that they can grow.”  Being an excellent individual performer is only a weak indicator that someone will make a good (let alone excellent) manager.  It’s more like a prerequisite; if you can’t cut it as an individual performer, you’re never going to get a shot at management.  Which helps explain why promoting someone to their first managerial role is truly a leap of faith.  Often it doesn’t work out, and when it doesn’t, it’s most often because an excellent individual performer has been rewarded - literally - for excelling individually and, once promoted, they aren’t ready to be judged by an entirely different set of criteria.

When individual work is up for grabs, new managers say “I’ll do that” far too often.  They don’t realize that, as managers, they will be judged on their ability to achieve results through others and by their team’s overall contribution to the organization.  That means the new manager must let go of much of the individual work they are accustomed to doing and being praised for.  Being praised feels good.  Letting go feels scary.  In a sense, you are retiring from the competencies you mastered in exchange for another set of competencies that you barely understand.  Passing this first test of management requires that the new manager let go of his/her former duties, trusting team members to own them.  This is especially difficult because the new manager knows these duties all too well and is bound to have strong feelings about how they ought to be done.

Faced with this dilemma, things tend to go one of two ways: 

1) The new manager can’t let go.  New managers who continue to operate as individual contributors are easy to spot.  They are seen as micromanagers in the eyes of their direct reports and peers; they work long hours because they won’t delegate; their team is demoralized because they don’t feel trusted; their team’s productivity is lower than it ought to be because team members are underutilized; and they are bottlenecks to organizational decision-making because all decisions must go through them.

2) The new manager stops controlling and learns to delegate.  New managers who can sever their emotional attachment to their former duties and entrust their team members to own them are equally easy to recognize.  They work reasonable hours; their team members make decisions independently and confidently; their team members take risks; their team is highly productive; and their team members are heavily recruited internally by other managers to more senior positions.  Note that all but one of these tangible signs of a new manager’s effectiveness are exhibited not by the manager, but by his or her team.  This is the tell-tale sign that the new manager has transitioned from individual performer to effective manager.  You can spot a good manager by where their team is excelling without their direct involvement.


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Posted by Rob

Finding the Best Talent

This is the first in a series of posts on how to build a great team.

In my previous role, I was given the opportunity to build my first team.  I inherited a team of three and, as our team’s services became more popular, I grew the team to 22.  This meant that, in a relatively short period of time, I wrote about 20 job descriptions, reviewed about 1,000 résumés, conducted about 200 interviews, hired about 30 people, and then observed the results.  I’ll tell you upfront that not all of my hires worked out, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.  I learned some valuable lessons, which I’ve attempted to summarize below in the form of hiring Do’s and Don’ts.

How to Hire

DO revisit the job description.  If you are backfilling an existing position, treat it as a blank canvas.  We are all creatures of habit, so it is tempting to dust off the departing employee’s job description and post it.  Don’t do this.  Organizations are living, evolving entities.  The competencies you hired for five years ago reflected the needs of an organization that no longer exists.  What do you need now?  What do you think you’ll need five years into the future?  Write a job description that encompasses the organization as it exists today and as you want it to evolve.

DO use behavioral interview questions.  I use them almost exclusively.  To construct one, start with the end in mind.  Let’s say the role you’re hiring for will require a high stress tolerance.  How do you find out, in an interview setting, whether or not the candidate can handle the type of stress you envision them encountering on the job?  Ask them to describe their most stressful work day.  Then ask them what made it stressful.  How did they respond?  What difficult decisions did they make?  What worked?  What didn’t work?  What would they do differently?  If the candidate answers all of those questions with some specificity, you will have a good sense of (a) their stress tolerance, (b) their ability to think on their feet, (c) how they make decisions and (d) their ability to reflect on and learn from their mistakes.  Not bad for one line of questioning.

DO be persistent.  As the interviewer, you are looking for specific, believable responses.  If the candidate glosses over something, ask him or her to go back and tell you more about it.  Be persistent.  I’ve asked candidates the same question five times.  It can feel awkward.  If the candidate can’t be more specific, or the specifics he/she provides sound contrived, they probably are.  A made-up answer is much worse than no answer.  Respect the candidate who says she can’t think of a past experience that matches your question, but who offers an experience that is somewhat similar.  Disqualify the candidate who provides an obviously made-up answer and count yourself lucky; you were able to discover that the candidate is deceitful during the interview process, rather than after you hired him.

DO remember that everyone sees the candidate from his or her unique vantage point.  One interviewer will be assessing the candidate as a potential direct report.  Another interviewer will be considering the candidate as a peer.  Still other interviewers will be thinking about the candidate as their potential new boss.  And if you have included more senior-level interviewers on your team, they may be evaluating the candidate as a potential successor to you.  As much as we might try to focus only on the candidate vis-à-vis the competencies called for in the job description, it’s impossible to avoid projecting what your own working relationship with the candidate would be like.  So if, for example, you love a candidate who would become your second-in-charge because of her track record of getting things done no matter the challenges, but your team wants nothing to do with her, it might be because the candidate tramples over peers and subordinates in order to achieve her goals.  As the boss, you care most about her ability to get things done; those she would manage care most about not becoming roadkill.  If you find wildly differing assessments of a candidate across your interview team, try to understand the “why” behind their assessments.  It’s probably about perspective.

DO stay disciplined.  After carefully constructing a job description that reflects the organization’s needs, selecting candidates to interview based on how closely they match the job description, and spending the bulk of the interview time determining, through behavioral questions, the candidates’ demonstrable possession of those competencies, I am amazed how often interview teams get together to share their observations and resort to judging candidates based on “likability” factors.  “Candidate A was really easy to talk to.”  “Candidate B really seemed to care about what we do.”  Unless “easy to talk to” is a competency in the job description, put it aside.  Similarly, seeming to care is easy to fake and impossible to validate.  Don’t lose your discipline at this final, and most critical, phase of the hiring process.  To avoid this pitfall, write the competencies from the job description on a whiteboard and have the interview team rate the candidates specifically and only on their aptitude in these competencies as demonstrated during their interview.  If someone’s rating seems anomalous to the group, facilitate a discussion to understand the justification for the rating.  Did it come from some specific response or behavior in the interview, or is the interviewer projecting? 

DO focus, most of all, on culture.  Every team has a culture.  If your team’s culture is wonderful, hire people that fit into it.  If you are trying to change your team’s culture, hire people that have the culture you aspire to and support them so they don’t get frustrated and leave or, worse, adopt the existing culture and stay.

DO avoid the “rebound” candidate.  Most interviewers only cursorily ask why a candidate is interested in the role.  It’s often an introductory question to get everyone warmed up and the candidate’s answer is not critically assessed.  I once made a hiring mistake that could have been avoided had I paid more attention to a candidate’s answer to this question.  This (internal) candidate talked about wanting to remain in the organization because she believed in its mission.  She claimed to be interested in the work my team did and said she looked forward to working directly with customers.  All of this sounded fine, but I should have probed further to see if the candidate could demonstrate this with examples from her past.  As it turned out, the candidate was not running toward my job, but away from her current job, where she was in a feud with a co-worker and extremely unhappy.  For a short time she performed well, happy to be in a healthier environment, but she soon grew unhappy when she realized she didn’t really want to do the type of work my team was responsible for; it merely seemed attractive because she so desperately wanted to escape.  This is the main value of taking the “why are interested in this job” question seriously:  To determine if the candidate really wants to be on your team in your role, or if they are merely desperate to get away from their current role.

How NOT to Hire

DON’T stuff a job description full of “duties.”  Duties render work into its least interesting form - chores.  Also, duties are volatile, or ought to be in a healthy organization, meaning your job description will be out-of-date within a few months.  Instead of duties, write down the role you want this person to play in the organization and talk about the responsibilities he or she will have.  “You will keep it all on track, ensuring that complex projects are delivered on time and under budget.”  “You will be responsible for maintaining our library’s reputation for compelling, interactive children’s literacy programs.”  Playing a role and being responsible are much more inspiring ways to view work than completing a list of chores.

DON’T lose sight of the forest through the trees.  Some interviewers ask every candidate a set of scripted questions.  While being consistent in what you ask candidates is important, and sometimes a legal requirement, don’t forget that the Q&A format of interviews is largely a pretense to see how a candidate carries him or herself.  Do they show signs of extreme nervousness or do they seem to own the room?  Do they hesitate before answering each question or do they always have a response on the tip of their tongue?  Can they answer questions succinctly and logically, or do they talk and talk before (finally) answering your question?  Once you assess these behaviors, project how they would play out in the role this person is applying for.  If they appear to be unconfident, will that hamper them in their role?  If they are deliberate communicators, will that be problematic?  If they go on and on, will their customers grow impatient?  How the candidate presents is just as important as What they present.

DON’T worry about the clock.  I cringe every time I hear a hiring manager say they really need to fill a position by X date.  This sets them up to make a mediocre hire.  In most cases the manager feels pressure because his/her team is stressed with extra work.  While this stress is real and should be addressed (the boss’s responsibility is to decide what work will NOT be done until a replacement is hired), hiring a candidate that is any less than excellent is short-sighted.  If you hire a mediocre candidate, the extra work your team was struggling with will persist because a mediocre candidate will make a mediocre team member.  An excellent candidate, even if it takes a while to find one, will not only pick up the slack, but lighten the load of everyone else.

DON’T overvalue familiarity.  If you’ve worked with someone before, you certainly know them better than other candidates.  However, we tend to judge less critically those we are familiar with, which can tip the scale in favor of the candidate we know best, not the best candidate for the role.  When people I have worked with before express interest in a job on my team, I tell them candidly (a) whether I feel they are a good fit and (b) that the fact I know them will have no impact on whether or not they are chosen for the role; the best candidate for the job gets it.  Period.

DON’T overvalue institutional knowledge.  Generally this manifests itself when an internal candidate is being considered for a more senior role.  Institutional knowledge requires no special aptitude to learn.  Similarly, institutional knowledge can be a negative trait if you, as the leader, want to establish a different organizational culture.  Assuming that you are happy with the current organizational culture and are considering an internal candidate for a more senior role, I recommend you neither give credit for their institutional knowledge, nor hold it against them.  Judge them on their demonstrable competencies just as you would an external candidate.

DON’T overvalue a candidate for the tools he/she knows.  Knowing a particular tool, software or coding language are often a result of circumstance.  The candidate happened to work at an organization where the tool was used and therefore had to learn it.  This implies very little about the candidate.  Much more important is determining if a candidate has the capacity and interest to learn new tools, software or coding languages.  To determine this, probe for behavioral evidence of traits like curiosity, ongoing self-improvement, and a willingness to ask for help.  Remember that you are hiring for the long-run.  Someone who knows your software may make an impact sooner than someone who has to learn it, but their head start will quickly evaporate.  What you’re left with can either be an expert on a particular software, which time will inevitably pass by, or someone who is adept at learning that tool as well as whatever comes next.  When choosing, be sure to hire the person who demonstrates the capacity for long-term success.

DON’T (necessarily) hire the most talented candidate.  This may sound odd, because we all talk about hiring “the best person.”  Sometimes - albeit rarely - the most talented candidate is not the right choice.  Usually this is because the candidate is overqualified.  Imagine that you were hiring an entry-level Cataloger and the ghost of Melvil Dewey applied for the job.  At first you’d feel incredibly lucky:  “Dewey is alive!  Well, sort of.  And he wants to work for us!  Do ghosts need health care benefits?  Who cares.  I can’t wait to Tweet this.”  Clearly Dewey would be bored stiff after a week of this entry-level work and would move on to another position as soon as he found one, leaving you to start again.  Unless you have a clear and rapid succession path for the overqualified candidate to keep him or her engaged, it’s best to choose someone whose expertise more closely aligns with the role.

In Conclusion 

Talent assessment will never be an exact science; humans on both sides of the interview table are fallible.  The best you can do as a hiring manager is develop best practices of assessing candidates that increase your odds of finding the strongest talent for your organization.  Talent is by no means the only ingredient in building a great team, but it gives the leader a significant advantage.  Watch this space for more thoughts on building a great team.


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